Europe’s Galileo network, its version of GPS, is about to get some more company. The next two satellites in the network are on their way. Galileo’s SAT 5 and SAT 6 blasted off aboard a Soyuz rocket from French Guinea.
The two satellites were supposed to go up a day before, but the weather didn’t play nice. Once the two satellites are fully deployed, 6 Galileo satellites will be in orbit. The European Space Agency (ESA) expects to have around 30 of them in orbit by 2017.
The launch of the two satellites had been delayed more than a year for what the ESA described as “technical difficulties in the setting up of the production line and test tools.” These delays are now behind the ESA as they prep to get the other 20 satellites into orbit over the next few years. They plan to launch between six and eight satellites a year.
The Galileo network will provide an alternative to the U.S.’ GPS and Russia’s Glonass systems. The European Space Agency believes the Galileo network will provide more precision than the current GPS system. Plus, the system will improve on a global search and rescue system used to send out distress calls.
Galileo also has stronger security including an encrypted signal for use by governments.
Once the ESA gets 18 of the satellites in orbit, the Galileo system should be able to begin providing navigation services to users. They expect that to happen “by mid-decade.” This should happen around 2016 if the ESA can launch six to eight a year like they plan to.
Galileo’s system has proved itself already. Last year, the four test satellites pinpointed a ground target with accuracy between 10 and 15 meters. Check out the launch of the satellites below.